Parenting is a profound journey that comes with its own set of challenges. We, humans, have developed various approaches to growing successful individuals. You may have heard of the ‘gentle parenting’ style, which has gained a lot of traction recently in parenting realms. It’s more than just taking a soft approach towards your children and is surprisingly less lenient than other methods. So, let’s look at what gentle parenting actually involves and how you can implement it in your everyday life.
What is Gentle Parenting?
In her influential book, Sarah Ockwell-Smith described gentle parenting as “a lifestyle that encompasses both your physical and psychological behaviour, not only towards your children but to yourself, too…”(1). She also explains that gentle parenting has long been practised and is more of an attitude towards child-rearing rather than a set of rules (2).
Ockwell-Smith defines gentle parenting as “a holistic philosophy that considers the emotional, as well as the practical, aspects of parenthood” (3).
So in other words, this approach encourages practical, teaching-focused discipline through emotionally considerate and respectful parent-child engagement. It’s based on compassion for both you and your child and requires understanding, empathy, and respect. The child is treated as a learning being, and the parent is a demonstrated result. Healthy boundaries are given in a kind yet strong way, creating stability for the child to flourish as an independent person.
How do you integrate gentle parenting?
Since gentle parenting is a way of life, it’s less about rules and more about changing your perspective towards your child’s behaviour. Gentle parenting guru Lizzy Mash explains that discipline should not be about punishment but instead about teaching your child how to engage with the world around them (4). The key to gentle discipline is to guide your child through firm boundaries using empathetic encouragement rather than punishing them for breaking the rules they are trying to learn.
Modelling Behaviour: We know that children are constantly soaking in what they see, creating behavioural standards from the get-go. Psychologist Rick Nauert describes the universality of children copying parental behaviour, which has been demonstrated in scientific studies (5). How we engage with our surroundings as parents is therefore crucial to foster healthy, positive behaviour in our children.
Setting Boundaries: Using clear, consistent boundaries is crucial in gentle parenting to teach your child outward engagement. The Growing Early Minds organisation suggest setting regular limits and routines that are understandable to your child, using a warm tone, and acknowledging their efforts (6). Gentle parenting requires empathetic boundaries that teach a child rather than attempting to control them.
The Gentle Parenting Ethos
Let’s face it, being a parent is probably one of the hardest and most relentless roles we humans can play. Gentle parenting takes this into account, reminding you to reflect on yourself as a whole person and encouraging your child to do the same. Empathy, understanding, and respect lead the way to guide your child with an overall positive way of life. Our children learn by observing us in every situation, so how we approach them teaches life-long lessons. If you’re interested in applying these gentle principles to your parenting, reflecting on your own engagement with the world around you is a great place to start.
- Sarah Ockwell-Smith, The Gentle Parenting Book, Piatkus, (2016).
- Ockwell-Smith, Gentle Parent, (2016).
- Ockwell-Smith, Gentle Parent, (2016).
- Lizzy Mash, “What is Gentle Parenting,” Easy Gentle Parenting, accessed 14 May 2023, www.easygentleparenting.com.
- Rick Nauert, “Modeling Behavior for Children Has Long-Lasting Effects,” PsychCentral, accessed 14 May 2023, www.psychcentral.com.
- Growing Early Minds, “How to set healthy boundaries with your kids,” Growing Early Minds, accessed 14 May 2023, www.growingearlyminds.org.au.